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Fresh fish in New York's Chinatowns causing skin infections

The New York City Health Department on March 5 issued a warning to people who may have handled or purchased fresh fish in the Chinatowns located in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. A large number of skin infections caused by a bacteria on the fish have been reported. The infection is not contagious and can be treated with antibiotics.

A fish market in Chinatown, Manhattan, NYC
David Paul Ohmer (CC BY 2.0)

NBC 4 New York is reporting that at least 30 cases of skin infections have been reported. All can be traced to handling raw fish in one of three Chinatowns in the city, those in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Fish from these markets that has been cooked properly is not infectious.

Iowa State University's Center for Food Security and Public Health says that the disease is known as Fish Tank Granuloma or Swimming Pool Granuloma. The skin infections are caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium marinum. The Center describes the illness as:

Signs of disease involve localized skin lesions, usually on the fingers or hands. They may be single nodule or ulcer or a series of multiple nodules. Skin lesions can heal on their own or persist for months. Less commonly the bacteria can spread in the body and cause joint and bone infections. Death is rare but occasionally occurs, most often in persons with weakened immune systems.

The Health Department describes how the illness is contracted as:

The bacteria can be transferred from contaminated live or raw fish or seafood into people’s bodies through a break in the skin, like a cut. Some people infected with the bacteria had existing cuts on their hands when they touched contaminated live or raw fish or seafood. Others cut themselves while preparing contaminated live or raw fish or seafood (i.e. cutting a finger on a sharp crab shell or fish bone).

The Health Department suggests that individuals see a physician if they have symptoms of the illness or if they believe they may have been exposed. Early treatment with antibiotics reduces serious complications seen in longer infections.

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